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Joseph Hutchins | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Top 10 Dropouts - Running Backs
Which RBs will fall from the fantasy top ten in 2019?

Who’s ready to throw some cold water on all those wildly optimistic fantasy projections? I had to chuckle when I reviewed the latest FFToday pre-season rankings, not because I found them unhelpful or even improbable, but because I happen to know firsthand how rudely the math treats projections year in and year out. Should this year’s rankings prove completely accurate, only five total QBs, RBs, and WRs would fail to reclaim their Top 10 status in the coming season. Unfortunately, that’s ten fewer than have ACTUALLY failed to do so every year since 2011 when I started writing this piece. Math. Never personal, but rarely convenient. Let’s take a look at who’s most likely to douse our pre-season positivity this fall.

Note: All rankings are based on FFToday’s standard league scoring.

  Top 10 Running Back - 2017
Rank Player
1 Todd Gurley
2 Le'Veon Bell
3 Kareem Hunt
4 Alvin Kamara
5 Melvin Gordon
6 Mark Ingram
7 LeSean McCoy
8 Leonard Fournette
9 Ezekiel Elliott
10 Jordan Howard
  Top 10 Running Backs - 2018
Rank Player
1 Todd Gurley
2 Saquon Barkley
3 Christian McCaffrey
4 Alvin Kamara
5 Ezekiel Elliott
6 James Conner
7 Melvin Gordon
8 Kareem Hunt
9 Joe Mixon
10 David Johnson

Who Missed the Cut in 2018 (5/10): Le’Veon Bell, Mark Ingram, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Fournette, & Jordan Howard

In a bit of a twist, outside-the-lines absences were far more damaging to the 2018 class of Top 10 running back dropouts than injury-related absences. Of course, that’s to be expected when the RB2 decides he’s gonna sit out a full 16 games in an effort to get paid. He both did and didn’t (more guaranteed money, lower top-end value), but it’s safe to say Le’Veon Bell likely emboldened future grumblers willing to play contract chicken (more on that in a bit).

Mark Ingram’s 4-game suspension for PEDs cost him 22 spots in the running back rankings, a disappointing decline for the once stalwart Saint. Suspensions always hurt but they don’t have to devastate the bottom line (see Zeke Elliott in 2017). In Ingram’s case, the prolonged absence opened the door for Alvin Kamara to become New Orleans’ unquestioned meal ticket, relegating the former Heisman winner to fringe fantasy status.

Jordan Howard was actually the most successful of the 2018 RB dropouts, but his continued shortcomings as a receiver and unsightly efficiency metrics nevertheless doomed him to a high teens ranking. We’ll see if a change of scenery can get him back in the Top 10 this season, but that 39th-ranked YPC ranking (out of 49 qualifiers) certainly doesn’t inspire.

Our final two Top 10 tumblers, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, were even less efficient than Howard, checking in at No.47 and No.48 amongst RB qualifiers in YPC, respectively. Fournette can blame poor health and below-average line play while Shady only has the latter to blame, really. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and will likely end up sharing the Buffalo backfield this season with Frank Gore...who’s on the wrong side of 35. What could possibly go wrong up there in Orchard Park?

Most Likely Candidates to Fall from the Top 10 This Year:

Todd Gurley

There isn’t a more polarizing figure heading into the 2019 season than Los Angeles’ star rock-toter.

Todd Gurley, LAR: There isn’t a more polarizing figure heading into the 2019 season than Los Angeles’ star rock-toter. Is he the under-25, do-it-all sensation who’s led all running backs in fantasy production two years running? Or is he the guy who suddenly, mysteriously disappeared from the Rams’ game plan when the games started mattering most at the end of last season? The answer may lie somewhere in between this season and that likely isn’t enough to guarantee a Top 10 finish, let alone a third straight No.1 overall ranking.

The only thing we know for certain about Gurley’s balky knee is that it caused him to miss the final two regular season games and then—after a solid Divisional Round outing against Dallas—rendered him largely ineffectual in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl. The rest is shrouded in mystery, though his trainer recently suggested there’s an “arthritic component.” Uh-oh. The one thing I know about arthritis is that it’s irreversible (I too have arthritis in my knees) and that it isn’t conducive to a long career in professional sports. One of Rip City’s finest, Brandon Roy, was forced to prematurely retire at age 27 due to degenerative arthritis in his knees (sigh).

Even if Gurley’s knees have plenty of mileage left in them, the Rams seem to be acting like they may not, They resigned backup Malcolm Brown and then went and drafted Darrell Henderson in the third round of April’s draft. Spending FA money and high draft picks for backups at the position don’t scream confidence in Gurley’s longer-term outlook. At the very least, we can expect Sean McVay to significantly reduce his star back’s workload, eroding the latter’s fantasy value. Add in a rejiggered/much younger offensive line and I’m comfortable predicting a major step back in 2019.

Ezekiel Elliott, DAL or Melvin Gordon, LAC: These two, within a couple weeks of one another, opted to use Le’Veon Bell’s blueprint and demand more money from their respective organizations. It’s hard to blame either if the end result is fewer miles on the tires and more guaranteed bread, but fantasy GMs could be heading into August drafts with an even murkier RB picture than last summer, when Bell’s year-long strike wasn’t a sure thing. Do we assume they’ll show up in time for the regular season or, failing that, a couple weeks in? Or do we assume they’re willing to go full sabbatical, a la Bell?

Elliott’s holdout is a little over a week old and, by all accounts, hasn’t caused too much consternation in Big D. The sides are talking, there’s talk of offers and counteroffers, and the Cowboys have an owner who’s unorthodox enough to throw the league’s richest RB contract Elliott’s way. On the other hand, the Cowboys have an owner who’s unorthodox enough to also swing a blockbuster deal and make the problem go away entirely (so he can lock down Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper). This one bears watching, though if all gets resolved by September, there’s no reason to think Zeke won’t end up in the Top 10 by season’s end.

I’ll hedge with Gordon, whose situation out in sunny San D is a bit cloudier. He’s already on record as saying he’ll sit and force a trade and the sides seem to be nowhere close thus far ($2-$3 million per year apart). Then, Philip Rivers threw some shade Gordon’s way, saying the Bolts’ RB corp is a “deep position.” Hmmm. Money is one thing, but fractured interpersonal relationships can be difficult to repair. Ask Big Ben. It’s time to worry about Gordon.

Kareem Hunt, CLE: Don’t you roll your eyes at me. We all know Hunt isn’t going Top 10’ing this season, not when he has to sit out the entire first half of the year for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. What’s more interesting to me, and worth talking about in early August, is how to treat Hunt in upcoming drafts. Is he worth a precious draft slot when you’re guaranteed to get zero points out of him until Week 9? Or can he be stealthily, safely stashed until late October/early November when he’s eligible to suit up for the Brownies and, in theory, capable of energizing your squad for a fantasy stretch run?

Perhaps the more interesting question here is actually what to do with Nick Chubb. It’s not difficult to envision a scenario where Chubb kills it through the first half of the season, gets banged up about midway through, and ends up sharing totes the second half of the season with the much fresher and (probably) more talented Hunt. It’s not even that difficult to envision it playing out less favorably for Chubb: He suffers the dreaded sophomore slump and gets relegated to second fiddle entirely once Hunt gains his sea legs in Week 10 or 11. Then, of course, there’s also the possibility that Chubb renders his new backfield mate an afterthought altogether by killing it all first half AND staying healthy. Kareem who?

I can’t remember heading into a draft season with so many questions at the RB position, possibly even more questions than we have answers. Gurley, Elliott, Gordon, Chubb, Hunt. Most, if not all, of these guys will force us to make some difficult decisions come draft day, and with incomplete information at best. Buckle up.

Next: Wide Receivers

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